On the one-year anniversary of an important American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Washington D.C., Wisconsin's public safety officers gathered to prepare for the next stage in the fight for labor rights.
Some 250 police and firefighters signed recall petitions, loaded up on maps and assignments and to listened to guest speakers at a "Recall Walker" gathering at Madison's South Central Federation of Labor. Mark Sanders, President of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, was there to pass the torch and Harold Schaitberger, National President of the International Association of Professional Firefighters (IAFF), was there to reminded the crowd about the critical role ALEC played in the Wisconsin and Ohio uprisings.
To be successful in recalling Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin's 20,000 trained volunteers have set a goal of gathering 750,000 signatures in a state of 6 million. The police and firefighters in the room seemed ready for the challenge.
Brian Austin, representing the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, kicked off the event by explaining how the images of teachers, nurses and social workers, cheering and weeping when police and firefighters first marched into the capitol in early days of the uprising, "will be forever burned in my memory."
"It's not because our numbers were so impressive, it was because of the unique position we occupy in society," said Austin. "We came out early and loud and hard, despite being exempt from this horrible bill… but it was because of our position as both part of the 'establishment' and protectors of the citizenry that our presence helped energize and comfort people."
Now Austin is personally ready for the recall because he views the Walker administration much like a "marauding, conquering army that is pillaging and dividing up the spoils our state."
Ohio Passes the Torch Back to Wisconsin
As president of the state's firefighters union, Mark Sanders was a leader in the fight against Ohio Governor John Kasich's collective bargaining bill, Senate Bill 5. Sanders explained that Ohio was a lot "redder" than Wisconsin and that most fire halls tune into Fox News. But when the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight broke out in February 2011 -- "everyone was glued to MSNBC." "You lit a fuse in our state," he told the Wisconsin workers.
The Ohio legislature passed its own collective bargaining bill in August of 2011. Ohio does not have a recall statute, but it does have a rare "veto referendum" which allows it to place new laws on hold and gather sufficient signatures to place the issue on the ballot for a statewide referendum. Ohio only needed 231,000 signatures in a state of 12 million. They submited 1.3 million. On November 8, Ohio residents voted to repeal the collective bargaining bill by an overwhelming margin of 61-38, in a referendum that marks the first time that the issue of collective bargaining has ever been put to a popular vote.
"You lit a torch in Ohio and now we are here to pass it back to you," said Saunders.
Anniversary of Important ALEC Meeting
The final speaker was IAFF President Schaitberger, who was the first national union president to withdraw campaign funds from federal Congressional races in order to make a difference in defending worker's rights at the state level.
Shaitberger underscored the role of the ALEC in the Wisconsin and Ohio fights. "Here are the real facts about what happened here in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Florida in New Hampshire and more. It was an orchestrated, cynical effort that began one year ago, after a wave of right wing ideologues were elected to office who wanted to destroy the American workforce. It began in December 2010 when ALEC brought together 2,000 members who developed 856 anti-worker, anti-union pieces of legislation and introduced them in 26 states," Schaitberger told the crowd.
ALEC did meet in Washington December 1-3, 2010, shortly after Republicans won trifecta control over 26 statehouses. The Center for Media and Democracy unveiled a trove of over 800 ALEC bills on its website ALECexposed.org in July of 2011.
ALEC state chairman and head of the Wisconsin Senate, Scott Fitzgerald, led a delegation of 30 Wisconsin legislators to the December meeting. Shortly after his return, Fitzgerald was asked by Jeff Mayer of WisPolitics.com if a Right to Work bill (which makes it makes it virtually impossible to organize or maintain a union in most work places) might be coming to Wisconsin.
"Should Wisconsin become a Right to Work state?" asked Mayer. "That is definitely something that is receiving a lot of attention among legislators," Fitzgerald responded. "I just attended an American Legislative Exchange Council meeting and I was surprised about how much momentum there was in and around that discussion, like nothing I have ever seen before ... Whether it is decertifying or right to work or other changes to labor law ... Listen, we have new majorities, if you talk to the members of the House of the Representatives and the way they view the world right now, the more feathers you ruffle right now the stronger you are going to be politically."
A New Public Enemy
For Schaitberger, right-wing politicians worked hard to turn anger over the 2008 Wall Street meltdown to their advantage.
"When this country found its self in such an economic mess, these folks were able to turn it around and create a new public enemy. It wasn't the hedge fund managers. It wasn't Lehman Brothers. The new public enemy was us. The person teaching kindergarden, the cop on the beat, the firefighter on the rig. We somehow got turned into the 'haves' against the 'have nots,' a public in real pain. All of this gave them the perfect time and platform to send their minions into states to strip us of collective bargaining rights ... We are the only thing standing in their way then, and we are the only thing that continues to stand in their way now," said Schaitberger.
"Governor Walker, we didn't pick this fight, but we are damned sure going to finish it," Schaitberger told the crowd.
For reporting on ALEC's most recent meeting in Phoenix, please see visit ALECexposed.org. The Center for Media and Democracy does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office. Since 1993, CMD has been reporting on corporate spin and government propaganda, exposing public relations tactics, and debunking PR campaigns. CMD's Brendan Fischer contributed to this report.